Practitioner Focus: Tilly McDermott

Can you describe your work in a few words?

Intuitive, process-oriented, abstract, conceptual.

What inspires you?

I am inspired by so many things! Old paper, cardboard, old books, reclaimed paper materials – scrap store stuff. Textures; muted colours; sounds; nature; graffiti and street art; overlooked and abandoned objects and disused spaces. Things with a narrative, a memory, a footprint.


How do you find a balance between teaching and making art?

Sometimes it’s a struggle! I’m a single mum, and I’m in the process of setting up a Creative Arts organization with a friend so that we can deliver our own community arts projects. And of course, working! I’ve just left my regular job for freelancing, so I’m juggling everything at the moment. I make time to make work each day, even if it’s only 5 minutes to doodle or to add to an existing piece. I also spend some time writing each day. It’s often snatched time between bath time and bed time, or first thing in the morning, but I need this time to let my brain shift down a gear, almost like meditating.


What materials could you not live without?

Water soluble graphite, charcoal and gesso. Acrylic paints. Pencils and notebooks.

What would your dream project be?

I was in hospital briefly last Christmas as a day patient, and in the foyer of the hospital there were some beautiful large-scale, abstract murals, which really inspired me… there are also a few wonderful examples of murals in Coventry city centre. I would love to be commissioned to create a piece of art to go in a public space – particularly somewhere like the hospital, where it would have a positive impact on people’s wellbeing. I’d like to do it as a participatory project in partnership with patients or service users, empowering people and giving them a sense of ownership and control over their environment.

Or I’d love to do a residency to make a body of work or explore an idea; I’d love to see what impact it had on my current practice and work to have access to ‘proper’ studio facilities, and I think it would push me out of my comfort zone, which I think is necessary for personal and professional development.


How does your creative practice work?

My creative practice is based largely around process, exploring ideas about identity, memory, personal narrative. I am fascinated by the endless possible variations on a single theme.

I make large drawings on sheets of lining paper or reclaimed cardboard. I mostly use gesso, charcoal, water soluble graphite and acrylic paint – I like to use materials with which there is a physical involvement and connection, and my drawings emerge as I work, exploring and expressing process and movement.

I then often tear the drawings down to make other things – I made some of my larger pieces into tubes with ‘windows’ cut into them, which I lit from the inside – windows into the mind, shedding light onto the process, making thinking visible. I like to use recycled paper materials, and I repurpose a lot of my drawings. I like the way they change and evolve, and take on a life of their own. I like to take lots of photographs of my work as I go along, and manipulate the images using photo editing apps on my phone – infinite possibilities from a single starting point – like personal identity.

I also love to write; I keep a handwritten notebook, and I have a blog about my art work. I like the blogging format; I like the fact that I can scroll back and see how my work has changed and developed over time. I also love the handwritten format – I find the process of writing by hand meditative – the rhythmic motion of my hand moving across the page making those little marks, recognizably my handwriting, but with slight variations each time.


What’s the best piece of creative advice you’ve been given?

Before I started the Artist Teacher Scheme, I was a bit stuck in a place where I felt my parental and financial responsibilities had to take precedence over my art practice. One of the workshop facilitators at an artist educators’ event at Birmingham City University said to me, “Give yourself permission to do it”. I think I really needed to hear that! Another of the facilitators, who is now my course tutor, Elena, listened patiently to my excuses and wittering and then told me, “Just do it anyway.” Both pieces of advice have stuck with me this year, and I’ve not looked back!


Practitioner Focus: Elinor Brass

Elinor Brass is an artist, researcher and teacher, Head of Art at a school in South East London, Director of Gerald Moore Gallery and founder of Sketchbook Circle. 

How would you describe your work?

I am interested in surface, layer, colour, history.  My work has tended to be responding somehow to the urban world and to places that show the traces of human life.  But not the figure.  I am interested in implied stories of what might have gone on, but mostly about the beauty in the overlooked - the everyday.  Over the years I have taken so many photos of old walls and abandoned or forgotten spaces that I continue to return to for inspiration.  And I do like a good building site.  I suppose I would call myself a painter but I work with a mixture of media and methods and often into 3D.  Whatever feels right.  I draw a lot.  I use my camera too.  I stitch and I use printmaking as a way to create layers.  I didn't study art at as an undergrad nor do a foundation mostly because my experience of art at school wasn't good and at the time I didn't understand what art could be.  So I ended up studying History of Art and History before my PGCE in Art and then did a Masters in painting once I was teaching.  It has meant that I have had to learn a lot of techniques through teaching myself.  

In recent years I have often collaborated with another artist, Emily Orley who is a lecturer at Roehampton University.  We are both interested in the history of spaces and have explored ways to respond through developing installations in places we found around London.  We begin the projects with the idea that 'places remember events' (words that James Joyce scribbled in the margin of his notes for Ulysses) to investigate and document the sites.  We spend time researching the place and then develop artwork back into the space responding to the history of the site.  

Sketchbook Circle enables me to keep my making processes constantly moving and I am lucky enough to have a space at home which acts as a small studio.  It means that the lines between life and art are blurred but that is the way I prefer it.  At the moment, I am in the forth year of an Educational Doctorate and so I have not been making big work or working on big projects as much of my time is committed to my research.   However, I continue to make every week somehow as it keeps me well.  I also consider my role as Director of Gerald Moore Gallery as a kind of artwork.  The gallery opened in 2012 and since then I have been leading the programme of exhibitions and events.  It has allowed me to commission work, to work with artists, galleries and curators and to explore different ways to use the gallery spaces and most importantly to place learning at the centre of everything we do.  

Hampstead Road

How does your process work?

I was lucky enough to do my Masters in painting on an artist teacher course at the beginning of my teaching career that meant I could still work full-time.  Studying and teaching forced me to develop a discipline towards making work that I have managed to sustain and is kind of where the idea for Sketchbook Circle came from.  There isn't ever enough time!  But I find the more that I make the more that I am thinking about making and the easier it is to dip in and out of making.  I don't wait for inspiration or to be in the mood, but just book in time to make sure that I keep things moving.

In my little studio space I have lots of materials that I like using and to which I often return.  I tend to get ideas moving through working small initially and using materials that I am confident with and then I build from there.  I am always telling my students that they need to see what emerges and I suppose I would say that this is what I like most about making work.  In life generally I am quite organised and I like a plan!  But I also like to be flexible and reactive which I suppose comes through in my work.  I like the way that Sketchbook Circle throws new things into the mix so that I am always developing as an artist and not only doing what I know.

I absolutely always carry a notebook.

I have lots of art books and a few favourite to which I regularly return. 

I draw a lot.

I love going on courses that push me around a bit and make me reflect more deeply on my practice.

I use my camera to collect ideas.

What tools and materials could you not live without?

I have a folder of collected papers to which I am constantly adding and which comes on all of my travels.  It is made up of old work, coloured tracing paper, scraps of vinyls, graph paper...  I really love drawing when I am travelling and so I also have plenty of different pens that allow me to build up surface as well as to work in line.  I love working with Posca Pens and have recently bought some more deliciously coloured Liquitex paint pens.  I also have a stock of washi tapes that I take with me.

Over the years I have stockpiled tester pots of emulsion which I use a lot in my work but recently have been using alongside lots of vivid drawing inks, bright acrylics and a range of fabulous Liquitex spray-paint.   I have also been working a lot with Gelli plates in order to develop surfaces and like the immediacy of that and the fact I can work quickly and be reactive.

I have lots of brown paper sandwich ties from Italy that I always get when I go to visit! I love using them as a way of drawing and I move into 3D playing with sticks and card and a glue gun. 

Tiger is my favourite place to visit for quirky materials but I am always checking what is in the stationary section of Poundland!  And I love a good wander around B and Q...  

What projects are you currently working on?

With my doctorate coming towards the end, most of my energy is devoted to that when I am not at work.  I chose to do it in order to make the most of my role in the gallery as it was such a big project and I felt quite isolated setting it up.  I wanted to make sure that it was a success and had to learn very quickly how to run a business, to develop a vision for the space, to programme events and to get as many people on side as possible!  I have benefited enormously from the support of my supervisor, Claire Robins at the Institute of Education.  She has given me a great deal of moral support, as well as given me the confidence to try new things and to stand up for what I believe in. 

At the moment I am exploring being an artist, researcher and teacher within my own institution and considering the impact of the galley on the students I teach.  I am hoping that I can complete my thesis by the end of 2017.

What is the best piece of creative advice you have ever been given?

I went on a creativity course at The School of Life in London which was led by Michael Atavar, who wrote 'How to be an Artist'.  I love going on courses like that as I am a bit greedy to learn new things and to carve out time to think about being creative.   One thing that he said was to not use the fact that you haven't got the space, time or money to do what you want, but instead to use what you have.  To turn it into a positive.  I think we are always doing this in schools anyway with the limits of time and funds, but I really like the idea of applying it to my own practice and I find it pushes me harder and I think I am a better artist as a result.  It kind of cuts out the opportunity to make an excuse about not making.  At the moment I am working small as that is what my space allows for, but in a way I think the work is more developed than it would be if I was painting large canvases.  It also suits my life at the moment.

The other thing Michael says is 'The only way to start is to start'.  Which I am often telling my students.  I am an advocate of using your body and creating energy to enable the work.  The most perfectly formed idea isn't going to emerge from nowhere.  Making work involves the right sort of energy.

What would your dream project be?

I am thoroughly enjoying running the Sketchbook Circle and would love for that to become an even bigger movement.  It would be wonderful to have the funding to work with more of those involved to run the circle: developing resources and a publication, offering on-line courses, more CPD, more support generally.  I really care about the circle but want it to be the best it could possible be. 

I am definitely going to write a book about the circle.  I have always wanted to write a book... Not an ordinary book, but something visual and which celebrates the circle community.  But I must finish my doctorate thesis first...

What are you reading at the moment?

No light reading for me at the moment!  I have been using a book called: 'Teaching Art in the Neoliberal Realm.  Realism versus Cynicism' edited by Gielen and De Bruyne, which is really satisfying to read as it gives such a clear account of the challenges we are all facing in school over the last few years.  But I am also using 'The Wander Society' by Keri Smith quite a lot at school and love Stephen Fowler's beautiful book on rubber stamps!  Oh and the 'Photographers Playbook'.

Emergency Blanket Challenge- Tilly McDermott

This piece has come about as a result of some ideas which I have been exploring and attempting to express whilst locating my artistic practice on the Artist Teacher Scheme at Birmingham School of Art. I have become very interested in making large scale drawings which express movement and energy, and which also seem to me to embody somehow the internal thought processes my mind goes through as I make them - process made visible. Elena, the course tutor, remarked that I am a 'taker-awayer', meaning that I put things into a piece and then move them around, or remove them, until I am satisfied. Addition and subtraction, ebb and flow, assertion and obliteration. I am now conscious of this as a valid part of my creative process, and actively embrace it in my work. This finished piece has gone through several versions and modifications as I thought my ideas through and came up with what seems to me to be a satisfactory way to express them. 

The emergency blanket I received through the post was smooth, shiny and reflective when I opened it and it reflected fairly clear images; however, as I worked with it, it became crumpled, torn and fragmented. These opposing qualities took on many meanings for me; fragmented memories, stories, narratives; self-reliance and self-reflection; my own image and my own environment mirrored back at me, alongside my own inner landscape. A reminder that what I need is right here, and all I have to do is look for it.
I felt the need to cut and shred the blanket, which seemed to be about the many shards and fragments of existence and experience which make me who I am; as I did so, the sunlight and the warm red of the curtains was reflected back at me.
I didn't really know at any point where I was headed with this idea, and it's only a stage on the internal journey. I've continued to pull bits off it (addition and subtraction), and I've photographed it and manipulated it with the (many) photo editing apps on my phone; will it ever be finished? When is a piece of work finished? I've put it aside for a while now, but I'm sure I will revisit it and change it again, as this seems to be an enduring part of my artistic practice.

The Emergency Blanket Challenge- Caroline Preston

For my challenge I tried a few templates, designed a cutting/scoring grid & now know that I can get 9 sheets of A4 from what you gave me which would result in 36 pyramids!
Alternatively, I could vary sizes for different effects if I was to develop this into my own work. (Here I have used sellotape for a quick fix, but for a professional outcome would use sandpaper & glue on the specified areas so that there was no obscurity/imperfection of tape when you look at the pyramids. This is necessary for each laminated pyramid simply because it cannot hold its form in the same way paper or metal can.)

With a class we would first make one each, then respond individually with photography, then as a whole group/small groups we'd create a combined series of 3D responses with sculpture, relief, photography, drawing & painting... Our work & what we place around it/where we place it, could then lead to still life observational experimentations & outcomes in response to this starting point! I love it as it can cover many themes & skills.

Critical & contextual references:
Broomhill Art Hotel & Sculpture Gardens where I visit & exhibit regularly, inspired by it's various national & international artists working in metal -

Martin C Herbst -

Mademoiselle Maurice -

My work:

My intention would be to create this into a full sculpture/relief wall piece. For now I have photographed the one I have made in different environments.

I wanted to apply my knowledge of origami to your challenge to link to my artwork, along with enjoying the light reflective surface & taking inspiration from artists working in similar media. I doubted it would tolerate gluing to paper for folding, and as I have been away for 3 weeks, figured to achieve something I would need a quick way to make this rigid. I knew I would loose some of the reflective quality, but hoped the laminating would suffice & other than a few creases where the original folds were, it's done ok, but lacks the brightness as thought!
(I will later use all the off cuts I have of the original blanket to create a rag rug style piece of card that I can poke & protrude sections through so they take on their own folds & reflections more naturally & reflectively in a smaller piece ref. Artist Martin C Herbst.)

Artist Focus: Paul Raymond

Can you describe your work in a few words?

I make artwork in a variety of media ranging from assemblage pieces, site-specific installation and lo-tech kinetic sculpture - to drawing, collage, video, sound and performance works. My most recent project has taken the form of a shambolic performance art cover band / art collective called ‘Stabbing Les’. As a group, we have curated exhibitions, hosted performance events and created a cassette based artwork archive featuring the work of a number of contemporary artists in the UK.

How do you find a balance between teaching and making art?

I think that it’s absolutely vital to find some kind of balance in order to function properly in any of my roles. I currently teach part-time in two different schools, I work with a group of home-educated students and I deliver workshops to adults and children. I suppose I see all of these roles as being part of my overall ‘creative practice’ and I feel like these separate strands all feed into one another. However, it is really important for me to set regular time aside for making my own personal artwork - either alone in my studio or through collaboration with others.

What inspires you?

I am hugely inspired by the people around me and the networks I am associated with. I am constantly inspired by the amazing and creative artists & teachers I work with in the North East. Inspiration can come from anywhere but I find that the most interesting work comes from sharing good practice and discussing ideas …whether that is through formal presentations & lectures, informal skills & ideas sharing sessions or through discussions in the pub.

Which material could you not live without?

My work is quite diverse in terms of the materials and methods I use. The common factor is usually some form of appropriation of objects or the deconstruction / reconstruction of materials. There is not a particular ‘thing’ that I couldn’t live without as I believe art can be made from absolutely anything at all.

What would your dream project be?

My dream project would be something on a huge scale involving a combination of performances and interactive exhibitions. I was really disappointed that I didn’t make it to see Banky’s ‘Dismaland’ in Weston-super-Mare last year as the idea of a subversive art theme park is very appealing. Some of the most memorable exhibitions I have visited have had clever interactive elements such as Michael Landy’s ‘Saints Alive’ at the National Gallery a few years ago. He created these violent self-flagellating kinetic sculptures of Christian Saints which were powered by visitors stepping on pressure pads. I also loved Doug Fishbone’s ‘Leisureland Golf’ which I visited recently at Derby’s Quad gallery space. This was a crazy golf course in which artists had designed playable holes parodying the leisure industry and highlighting a number of important social issues. I don’t necessarily think that all exhibitions have to be interactive – but my inner child definitely craves a bit of excitement, sensationalism and FUN!!!    

How does your creative process work and what’s the best piece of creative advice you’ve been given?

The best piece of advice I was ever given was something along the lines of “creativity doesn’t always just happen; you need to work at it”. I can’t remember the exact words but a friend offered this advice at the start of my final year of university when I had hit a bit of a creative wall. It’s pretty obvious advice when you think about it, but it’s so easy to get caught up in the “struggle” of making artwork. I find that it’s often more difficult to come up with ideas and to develop them in isolation which is why I believe that collaborative practice is so important.

My creative process generally involves working with others. I am very lucky to be part of the North East Artist Teacher and Educator Network (NEATEN) which provides a platform for sharing educational ideas, skills and knowledge as well as being a very welcoming social network. I collaborate with a variety of artists in my personal practice and I also love being part of Sketchbook Circle and having the opportunity to have a visual conversation with other creative people around the country.

What are you reading at the moment?

I am currently reading ‘Truth or Dare? – The Politics of Parafiction Art’ edited by Keren Goldberg. It is about the creation of fake narratives, fictitious historical personas and imaginary situations as artistic acts. 

Katie Smith on Creativity, Kindness and Wellbeing

A little while ago my friend David Gauntlett sent me a link to his Ted talk he’d done called ‘Building Real-World Platforms for Creativity.’ It’s a really lovely film that explores how small acts of creativity can change the world. What I particularly like about David’s talk is that it acknowledges the power of creativity to connect people through the shared experience of making. It’s all about people doing everyday stuff together and for that stuff to have the potential to encourage conversations, create inspiration and to make things happen.

Watching David’s film made me ponder my role as an artist. Creativity is my bread and butter but also my therapy, my hobby and the lens through which I experience the world. Each is a collaborative process and I doubt whether one could exist without the other. I don’t have to squeeze creativity into my life or make time for it which is an amazingly privileged position to be in, so I guess I was asking myself ‘what is it that I bring to the table?’

Shortly after David sent me the link to his film I got a text from Lauren, a young person I’d worked with on a past project to say that she had been admitted to a secure mental health unit. It was a massive shock and as a mum of a daughter of a similar age with the same diagnosis I knew that I had to do something.

My daughter’s experiences have taught me that people’s attitudes towards mental illness can be pretty appalling. You are not afforded the same kindness as someone with a physical illness as there is a common assumption that you have some control over the way that you are feeling. As 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year it’s my belief that we should look after each other and no one should ever be made to feel as if they are not worthy of compassion.

Thinking back to my question ‘what is it that I bring to the table?’ I decided to step into the role of artist as instigator and set about organising a sort of postal flash mob for Lauren. I wanted her to know that she had a place in a world and that she was loved. I contacted lots of creative friends and asked if they could make some exciting post for her; they rose to the challenge and kept my postman very busy for at least a week! I was overwhelmed by people’s generosity and the general feeling that to give was an equal pleasure as to receive. I set up a secret Facebook group which developed into a supportive community of makers all keen to connect with each through a collective act of creative kindness.

David starts and ends his Ted talk with the statement ‘little bits of creativity are not trivial.’ The collection of little bits of creativity poured into envelopes and packages for Lauren were not trivial, far from it, they had the collective power to change a little corner of her world. They are helpful to her now and will continue to help her through her recovery. I don’t know whether I instigated Lauren’s postal flash mob as an artist or a human, I just felt that I did what I needed to be done. I do know that I couldn’t have done it without inviting my friends to step into a shared experience and I am so grateful for their help.

I wrote this piece for my blog but there is a backstory that I would like to add. As part of the introduction to the project that Lauren had taken part in, I showed her group the Sketchbook Circle book I’d worked in with Paula Preston last year. I presented it as an example of how the right collaboration mixed with a good dose of open ended creativity can help to maintain equilibrium in our busy lives. Lauren loved exploring the pages and was really intrigued by our partnership. I was thrilled when a few weeks later she told me that she’d been inspired to start a collaborative sketchbook with her friend Rosie who she'd met through a hospital stay. Their book documents their days out and has been a really good way for both girls to see the progress they are making in a tangible form. When Rosie visited Lauren in hospital she handed the book over to her for the duration of her stay, a lovely gesture that is helping Lauren’s recovery by giving her hope for the future. Art makes people powerful.


Artist Focus: Paula Preston

Describe your style in a few words

 “That’s very you, that is” Exactly what this means remains a mystery to me. Mostly people say this when they see something that’s a bit wrong, juxtaposed, ironic, loosely provocative or quirky. Being asked to describe my style puts me in a very uncomfortable position. But then that’s also very me – being uncomfortable. I would say that my style is defined by circumstance and the urge to tell the truth. And I like old photos of people on days out.

Stitch Sketch with Natural Dyes and Seed Stitch

What are the main sources of inspiration in your life and work?

Another question that makes me think I am devoid of any relevant sources and unworthy of even being asked it. But I know what I like. Perfectly considered and well executed mistakes which turn out good. I love creating opportunities for curious adventure and not really knowing what the outcome will be. Kandinsky was my first crush. I fell for his synaesthesia and tiny spectacles. When I first saw his “improvisations” I was very moved and it dawned on me that we shared a secret visual language. I was inconsolable when I read that his creative use of form and colour was universal and relevant to any old Tom, Dick and Harry. I am over it now romantically, but refer to his art constantly when encouraging children to be free with their mark making.

Stencil on Marbeld Board Boaty Mc Boat Face

What projects are you working on?

It’s not fun, but like other teachers who love art, I try to change things from the inside. At school I am whistling in the wind mostly. I have tried using a trumpet, and even blew my own once, but I wasn’t very good at it and people found it disturbing. So, daily I strive to cajole colleagues to make more use of sketchbooks as thinking tools for the benefit of the children we work with.
Recently, after 20 years teaching across both key stages, I was placed in reception for the first time. After a lot of blinking in the headlights and wondering what on earth was going on, I realised that this was the most important phase of a child’s education. It is a stark reality that from Yr. R onwards, opportunities for creative play and art diminish.
I am currently working on challenging the mind set of my colleagues. I run demonstrations, provide staff workshops and freebies. I gave them all a copy of Keri Smith’s “Mess” and brand new sketchbooks to play in. Sadly, a recent monitoring session showed little improvement. A sweary banner has long been on my ‘to do’ list. Onwards and upwards! Natural dyes and stitchery are a big interest since discovering the work of Claire Wellesley Smith “Slow Stitch – mindful and contemplative textile art”. Avocados have featured large in this house since, for all the right reasons.
Talking about projects would not be right without mentioning this one – the Sketchbook Circle. Quite simply it has given me a new purpose and vision. My collaborations have been the periscope and air supply to my submarine of creativity. Apologies for the poor analogy, time is short, but I cannot over-egg its value to me. The reflection and daring that some of the collaborations have induced has been a bit life changing actually.

Montage of Burlesque Prints

Tell us a little bit about your working process?

Outside of school, as well as inside it, I am an artist. It keeps me sane and drives me mad respectively. On my day off (I went part time last year) I hang out in an art gallery in town with other artists and real art work and stuff. We talk about the artistic process, the world and printing costs and what inspires us and it feels good. It’s a pop up shop called “That Gallery” in Basingstoke and it fills the dearth of artistic expression in this, my hometown, like a pear drop in an empty swimming pool. But it’s a start. My work is eclectic and sporadic. Last season I worked mostly in wax and collage. This season I have played around with Burlesque imagery, stitchery and stencilling. Stitching is a therapy for me. A threading way to work through problems. The process of stencils intrigues me. There’s a street artist in Barcelona who goes by the name of B Toy Andrea, I would recommend a Google search. I researched the technique after seeing some of her stunning work up close in Menorca. Like Banksy, it’s all about preparation. Then, when you finally spray onto a precision cut stencil and lift, you are addicted. My garden fence and house walls bear witness to this. After a few sherbets, I often fight the urge to don a hoodie and brighten up the local railway tunnel.

Artist in Residence at Rooksdown Primary School

Which books and magazines are currently on your bedside table?

“Tracks” by Louise Erdrich, and the rest of the collection which imagines the lives, times and changing environment of North Dakota Indians across generations. A book on practical magic which seemed like a good idea at the time but I’ve yet to master any of the tricks.

What is the best piece of creative advice you have ever been given?

“You can’t colour a face orange!” My first teacher

“Or.. You could go and get a job at the A.A. like the rest of your mates.” – My mum and Dad – in the days of free art degrees.

“Please stop filling this place up with your weirdness. Why can’t you be like other mums?” - Rosa, my daughter.

“I don’t get it, but do it if it makes you happy” – Jamie, my husband.

Where else can we see your work?


Practitioner Focus: Georgia Naish

How did you develop your distinctive style?

I'd describe myself as a graphic artist, as opposed to designer. It took me a long time to work out I wasn't a fine artist. I love process, getting messy, printmaking, collage, drawing, but I also feel the need to add a graphic element to my work. I am in love with typography. I'm starting to realise I've held myself back from solely working with typographic form, but I think that's what I might allow myself to do next. I didn't make any work for a long time until I did a MA Teacher Maker course- this restored my confidence and reminded why I'd chosen to teach art in the first place. I owe a lot too, to the TEA (Thinking Expression Action) project that Susan Coles ran in 2012- that was the beginning of this fantastic journey of creativity, of meeting people and sharing that I've happily been a part of since then.

Humour is very important to me in my work too. I love the freedom sketchbook circle allows, the 'no rules' (no criteria) freedom to push ideas and play. Comics and children's books are a rich source of ideas for me I like seeing Minnie the Minx or Dick Dastardly make a subtle little appearance in my work. I buy a lot from eBay, I find this a great source for finding ephemera that can act as a starting point for a piece of work. 

About 10 years ago I started graphics courses within my department at Sandbach School. This forced me to learn how to use Photoshop- this opened up so many possibilities for me within my work. I use it as a tool to treat images rather than as a way of producing an outcome in its own right. I like my work to have an 'analogue', not digital feel to it. 

What are the main sources of inspiration in your life and work?

In my work, I often include an autobiographical element in some way; for my masters final project my work was all about a family archive and referenced family documents, including letters and envelopes, travel (I travelled a lot as a child between my parents' houses, buses and trains. The Manchester bus logo and the British Rail logo were highly charged symbols for me.) I also used my family's history as a vehicle to explore process, using letters exchanged between my dad and my Grandma when he was travelling in the 60's, documents such as my Grandma's Communist Party membership card and my Grandad's papers from his time in the international brigade fighting in The Spanish Civil War. It was a way of exploring my identity. Linking myself to my past and remembering my dad and his parents. I am interested in archiving experiences and memories; using archival methods of presentation to lend resonance to personal ephemera.

In my life, my family inspires me. And as a 44 year old mother of 2 young boys, being healthy and happy is what inspires me and what I aspire to. Being creative and finding my own path are really important to me and part of being happy. I'm inspired by the many brilliant people I've met over my career, and more recently, the Sketchbook Circle community. I am also inspired by many of the students that I teach. Teaching is about developing trust and confidence. I feel privileged that my students trust me and I love the feeling of seeing them discover and flourish through their work.

What projects are you working on?

Since becoming involved as a facilitator for Sketchbook Circle in 2014, that takes up a lot of my time and occupies my thoughts a great deal. Elinor Brass and I have more ideas than we have time, but I'm very excited about the future of the project and about being part of growing this fantastic community. I am currently working on ideas for classes for adults in a community learning context and following this, Elinor and I have ideas for online courses. I'd like to work towards being freelance, doing more large scale projects, but I don't feel ready to leave the classroom totally just yet.

Can you tell us a little bit about your working process?

I love working with prepared papers, printmaking, cutting, found images, digital processes and ideas around juxtaposition. I tend to have a pile of stuff around me as I work- folders of papers, bits of work I may have previously disregarded. I don't tend to have a set idea about what I'm going to make, but trust my instincts as a piece develops. I sometimes think I'm too concerned with aesthetics- sumptuous textures, typographic form, visual clichés that can appear again and again in my work. If I had more time to make work, I think I'd draw more, like I used to when I was in my late teens and early 20's, when i was happy with a graphite stick, a rubber and a sketchbook.

When do you make work? 

I approach making work like most things in life- I'm a bit all or nothing. At the moment due to my other commitments I'm not making much time to work, which is something I intend to remedy this summer! When I do work, it tends to be in the evenings. My tiny workroom at home is about to become my youngest son's bedroom, so I'll be back to the kitchen table; papers and paints overflowing.

What is the best piece of creative advice you've been given?

One of the most important people in my career was the late, great Keith Walker, PGCE & MA Tutor at MMU (amongst many other things.) When I started my MA, It wasn't a single piece of advice he (along with co-tutor Jane Parker) gave me, but a stream of subtle encouragement, asking the right questions which led to healthy reflection and a building of my confidence.  He encapsulated how to be a good art teacher through his passion and belief in all those he worked with. 


Artist Focus: Jean Edwards

Tell us a bit about yourself

I used to be a primary school teacher and ultimately a headteacher but throughout always an art coordinator trying to make sure children had a good experience of art to set them up for later participation in and appreciation of art. I now work in the School of Education at the University of Northampton where art is not a large part of my role. This has led me to making more of my own art and seeking other opportunities to be involved in art education such as writing a textbook for students and taking part in the sketchbook circle. 

Tell us about your style

I love drawing and since August 2012 I've been making and posting a drawing every day - this is my way of ensuring I keep art present in my life and not something I plan to do but never get round to. 
I'm also a printmaker, making collagraphs using found and recycled materials. 

Since joining the sketchbook circle I've been inspired to explore monoprinting using a Gelli plate and using collage techniques. Both of these have led into new areas of my own work.

What are the inspirations for your work?

I'm primarily inspired by the world around me - the local environment and what I see in galleries and museums. Lately I've been involved in urban sketching and being able to see the work of other artists drawing their localities and sometimes working with them on location has been great.
The interaction with my sketchbook partners has been inspiring too - leading me to new approaches and ideas that I had never explored before. The collaborative approach in one book and the different ways that unfolds is so interesting and continues to surprise into the third year of my participation. 
I've also begun to explore making art with digital technology and exploring the interaction between making 'real' art and then developing it further with digital tech - this is something that I've been working on with colleagues and students at university. 

What projects are you working on?

Apart from my ongoing daily drawing I've set up a local urbansketching group called DrawingOutside:Northants. We meet every Tuesday evening somewhere to draw so I've been searching for interesting places and wet weather alternatives! I'm also preparing to attend the International Urban Sketching Symposium in Manchester in July, which will be huge injection of ideas I'm sure. 
I've signed up to take part in my local Open Studios in September so I'll be working hard on making new prints and collages between now and then. 
In an attempt to connect my life as an artist and my job I'm writing an application for a PhD although this does keep getting pushed out of the way. 

What tools and materials could you not live without?

A sketchbook and 4B pencil for sure, and a close second a very sharp scalpel, PVA and mountboard as these are the basis for my printmaking. 

Tell us about your work space.  How do you ensure it continues to fuel your creativity?

When I made the decision to try daily drawing I realised that if have to regard everywhere as my work space so I put a sketchbook and pencil in all sorts of places - my car, my work desk, my handbag, my work bag so wherever I am I can draw. At home I can transform my kitchen into a printmaking workshop in about 15 minutes and I love spending the afternoon printing, listening to the radio and being continually surprised by the process. I also make art in my spare bedroom which is where I keep all my art stuff - often the tools and materials themselves can suggest a creative idea if there is time to play and experiment. I read somewhere that when inspiration and creative ideas are lacking just being in your workspace for 15 minutes will lead you into something and that often works with me. If all else fails I go in the spare bedroom and tidy, get distracted and end up making art.

Any tips for busting out of a creative rut?

That's an apt question as I do feel a bit lacking in motivation at the moment! Something that keeps me going is the daily habit. I'm approaching day 1400 (on June 22nd) so that over time has made me less likely to wait for inspiration.
I find working with others via the sketchbook circle a motivation because of my partners' input and the need to not let them down. Also chance interactions on Twitter with other artists and artist teaches can kickstart an idea or share a project that grabs my attention - the monthly art # on Twitter for example, where I can see lots of artists working on the same theme and giving and receiving feedback and encouragement.


Elaine Humpleby- Painting with Light: Cyanotype, Photograms and Chemigrams

I studied an eclectic mix of Three-Dimensional Design and Photography at university three decades ago and I have been teaching ever since. I studied traditional processes as part of my course but was also exposed to the new techniques of Holograph and Digital Design which were very new at the time.

I teach Art, Media Studies and Photography at a comprehensive school in Norwich. Much as I love all aspects of all three courses, over the past few years I had become concerned about three things.

·         Firstly how ‘complacent’ students had become with working through a computer interface; happy to take snapshots and then use the magic of Photoshop (or other brands of software which are available) to churn out versions of the original rather than perhaps seeing the Photographic process as creative and an Art form in its own right or thinking as Artists.

·         Secondly despite the high level of technical skill, the need for a conceptual or narrative content and an understanding of process required to make good, original outcomes they were increasingly happy with volume rather than quality. 

·         Finally there was an increasing cost to studying Photographic processes: printing, editing, computers, cameras etc. and many students were not able to meet that cost. I wanted a cheaper way that they could be successful

 I wanted to find a way to share the sheer magic and excitement I feel when creating images using what are now referred to as ‘Alternative’ Photography. I carried out some research to make sure than I could get the materials at a good cost AND students would get good results and I started to experiment myself: revisiting processes that in some cases I last used when I was in my early twenties. Then I tested it with a small group of students and now all groups use these methods. Students create natural versions of each method but then also use scans to edit with PCs and mixed media processes to develop work experimenting with scale, layers and materials.  There are lots of books on the market and I found these of particular use:

Working together as teachers and artists

Finding the Sketchbook Circle and NSEAD has been such an awesome inspiration. I have has great partnerships and every visit to the facebook group gives me new ideas. Yvette Hughes, Helen Homewood and Rohan Mason have been my closest inspirations but looking at what everyone has done has totally reinvigorated my own practice and my qualities as a teacher. Working together and sharing ideas through this group benefits me and my students. I was lucky enough to be asked to deliver a workshop in London in February this year and it was just brilliant to see how art teachers responded to my session – I took their ideas back to my own classroom. My students clamour to see my sketchbook each month so there is a measurable impact on their own sketchbooks.

Started by Becky Mizon , Norfolk art teachers have set up a ‘TeachMeet’ group called ‘A Nice Cup of Norfolk tea’. Last month we had our first meeting hosted by Helen Homewood at Aylsham where we all had a go at Cyanotypes and combined it with Gelli printing. It was also time to share thoughts on assessment and schemes of work. 


This is a way of creating white prints on a deep blue background. It is very simple but very slow. After painting your surface with the fluid in low artificial/non-uv light let it dry. Then use interesting objects to act as a resist and protect the surface from uv/sunlight. The method uses a chemical process to turn the surface a lovely cyan blue when oxidised and was the original ‘blueprint’

Pitfalls & Challenges

The liquid marks surfaces to cover anything you don’t want to stain. Without an expensive UV light-box you need to either rely on the sun OR leave the compositions to expose in winter or cloudy light forlong time – (I have used moonlight but it takes ALL night). You need 2 lightproof containers to protect the liquid once mixed with water and a third one to store the combined liquids

Tips for success

·         It is very cheap and is a great link to science and maths

·         You can paint it onto all different kinds of paper, fabric and things like low fired, unglazed pottery

·         The colour is fabulous (but fades so when complete keep out of sunlight)

·         The powders are mixed with water and it is super easy. The powders are safe – they are used in food products but avoid breathing in the dust

·         Experiment with different papers and painting bold or rough textures

·         Just use warm water to oxidise it – soak the paper in it until the ‘yellow’ washes out

·         Use vinegar or very, very mild bleach solution in the final wash to make the blue really pop

A helpful video can be found here

Examples by students / ME

The process - PHOTOGRAMS

Photograms are produced in a darkroom and I am lucky enough to have enlargers but most have been collected by posting notes on the school website and gumtree (it is amazing what grandparents have in garages) and my oldest is from the 1940s. you can do it with a strong lamp but need to experiment with timings

Pitfalls & Challenges

It can be expensive: the developer and fixative go a long way but the light-sensitive photo paper can be expensive. I have become good at trawling eBay, gumtree and car boots for old paper stock which can yield stunning results. it only takes seconds to expose the paper in a strong light source.You need a room which has been blacked out and a red bulb that is 15w or less. I have found that science often have this kind of roombut I have also used stockrooms with black plastic over windows.

Tips for success

·         Same tips as for Chemigrams

·         Plus this is all about opacity and transparency – solid dark things block the light getting to the paper totally, bulbs and clear plastic let light through,  seeds, feathers and delicate flowers , wire and lace work brilliantly



This is a way of capturing positive or negative images straight onto light sensitive paper by using various objects. It is a way of printing using darkroom chemical (Developer and Fixative) to create very expressive and experimental compositions. Smelly fun and immediate: all abilities I have done it with love it, from Y7 to Y13

Find the history here:

Pitfalls & Challenges

It is smelly and can be expensive: the developer and fixative go a long way but the light-sensitive photo paper can be expensive. I have become good at trawling eBay, gumtree and car boots for old paper stock which can yield stunning results

Tips for success/positives

·         Students and teachers love doing this and it links well to science/maths so sometimes you can tap non-art budgets for funds

·         It is instant

·         Light-sensitive paper reacts very fast to white light – before a class I work in a safe-light area and count 4 or 5 sheets into separate light sensitive bags so that a whole box cannot be exposed. Students (or teachers) get a bag between pairs

·         Use small paper and get small groups to do it at once – a whole class is too messy

·         Litter trays or Tupperware are good for the chemicals

·         Have stuff to wash hands with

Practitioner Focus: Amy Ash

My name is Amy Ash. I am a Canadian who moved to London on a whim and decided to start calling the city home.  I am a multi-disciplinary artist. My practice moves between installation and other forms of making, curatorial projects, and teaching/learning. I consider each of these elements an equally integral discipline within my practice.  For a long time, I found it hard managing the different facets of my work and would actively segregate them, which I think it is something especially common for artists who are also teachers. For some audiences I was a teacher or a curator and, for others, an artist. I found it difficult to respect my teaching and learning work as inclusive in my practice and kept it on the sideline. Within the last few years everything has started to melt into one practice, which makes everything much more rewarding. 

Legacy in Blue

Legacy in Blue

Centre for Imaginary Communication

Centre for Imaginary Communication

What are you working on now? 

I just launched a new website which was a much bigger undertaking than I’d realised. Now that it is finished, I’m working on a few things at once...  I’m preparing for an exhibition at St Thomas University, in Canada. The work is a result of my participation in the thematic residency, Truth Lies and Lore, at the Banff Centre for the Arts. The project, called Pot of Gold, uses found mementos to look at unquantifiable value and the artefact as a fiction while unpicking some of the regional intricacies and idiosyncrasies from Atlantic Canada. Alongside the exhibition, which will be in late summer, there will be a small publication, so I am work-shopping ideas for that as well. 

The Revaluables (detail)

The Revaluables (detail)

I am also looking forward to a summer residency in Wales. My wife (who is a primary school teacher) and I will be travelling to Wales to work on a model for an experimental learning programme. We will be working with local children to create a town museum, curated entirely by them, according to what they deem relevant. 

Lastly, I am right now in the midst of a learning/curatorial project called Youth Uncovered, which supports a group of young people from three south London secondary schools to curate an exhibition of professional contemporary artwork. Youth Uncovered asks the question, what does it mean to be a young person today? The group joined forces in June of 2015, placing an international call for submissions and making their selections from an outstanding number of proposals. Since then, they have been working diligently both learning from and leading the professional artists in their research and understanding of what it means to be a young person today. We were recently awarded support by Arts Council England and are looking forward to the opening and Q&A on 23rd April 2-5pm at Gerald Moore Gallery—save the date! For more information, see 

Insta&twitter: @amy_ash_ 

#youthuncovered #studi0aa 




Water, Warp and Weft

Water, Warp and Weft

 How would you describe your style in a few words? 

I’m not sure about my style... I think of my work as quiet, contemplative and fluid. I am interested in the iconography of memory, but I’m not sure that’s my style. I hope to create spaces/instances which allow individuals to make their own meaning without shepherding them towards a specific understanding of the world. 

Ordinary Monuments. Installation

Ordinary Monuments. Installation

What are you reading at the moment? 

I’m reading A Tale for the Time Being  by Ruth Ozeki. It is the perfect book for me right now—it is set between Canada and Japan (both places in which I’ve lived and which continue to occupy a certain part of my heart). The book questions our linear understanding of time and also plays with the relationship between memory and attachment/nostalgia, drawing attention to the connection between our lived experience and our perception of events. All this wrapped up in a very digestible narrative.  

Without Words what are Facts

Without Words what are Facts

Name your top three creative blogs: 

I like the Jealous Curator (who doesn’t?) but, to be completely honest, I don’t really follow many blogs...  

I do make good use of these online resources: 


This is a juried art community, which allows artists and arts workers to network and share ideas. There is an annual fee, but I think it is worth it. They put out a newsletter, run a blog and also send emails with opportunities that are tailored to individuals. It also allows non-community members to search through artist profiles and see what people are up to. There is a strong community of artist-teachers. 


Great for local listings—perfect for matching relevant exhibitions to students’ interests, which are nearby and also realistic for them to attend. 


An incredible resource--There is so much to read and so many opportunities here. 

Fantastic articles, as well as a great window into all that is happening in arts education (and CPD) on an international scale. 

I also follow along online to see what learning programmes are happening at places like Walker Arts Centre, Ikon Gallery, Whitechapel Gallery and more. 

The Bride

The Bride

 How does your creative process work? 

My process is fairly intuitive and also varied, but it usually follows this pattern...  

I start with an idea, experience, object, memory or question and branch out from there with research, collecting information and related objects, stories, hearsay. I am a huge fan of a sprawling mind-map and of post-its, highlighters and lists to get me started. I try to look into the poetics, metaphors, etymology and history of the catalyst. I always go way beyond what I think I will need in terms of research and support material, as sometimes there are serendipitous connections just on the periphery of the idea. Once I’ve done this, I reconfigure the elements—rewriting the ‘narrative’ to different ends. Sometimes the narrative is a lesson plan and sometimes it is a drawing or an installation. Doing the research and making the connections is best as a slow process, which I prefer not to rush. Sometimes, of course, I have to put these steps on fast forward to make deadlines, but I still follow a similar approach. I am working on being better at accepting the moments when I have to rush—it doesn’t come naturally.

Ah Love

Ah Love

Where do you enjoy searching for creative inspiration? 

I like to get away from my laptop screen.  I love listening to people. Autonomy and voice are very important in my work. I can often be found recovering abandoned/forgotten objects and stories, which I use to allow others to explore their own voice.  I go to talks (artist talks, book talks etc) as often as I can and find it incredibly inspiring to hear people speak about what they love.  

I also find great inspiration in all the usual places--books, museums, galleries and current affairs.  

To Grasp

To Grasp

Woman and Children

Woman and Children

What tools/materials could you not live without? 

Pencils—I like a hard mechanical pencil and a selection of softer, fatter ones. 


St. Armand papers—it is from Montreal and I bring back loads of it every time I visit Canada 


Acrylic gel medium-- preferably by Golden if/when I can afford it! 


A Japanese Kuretake brush pen. 




Staff Sketchbook Circle - Katherine Knowles, Our Lady's Catholic College

I have been a member of the TEA sketchbook circle from the start and thoroughly enjoy the challenge it brings in terms of making me make time for my own practice and pushing me out of my comfort zone in terms of responding to other people's work, who may work in a very different way.

I have wondered about starting a staff circle at school for a couple of years but kept putting it off thinking I'd get responses such as 'I don't have time' or 'I can't draw'! Towards the end of the summer term 2015 some comments on a staff well-being survey prompted me to give it a go - thinking it might just be 'different' enough for people to be willing to try.   I e-mailed staff, explaining the concept and offered them the chance to see my TEA books. I was quite overwhelmed when 48 (over half) the staff signed up. The Headteacher agreed to pay for A5 sketchbooks for everyone and I put together welcome packs consisting of instructions of how the circle works, ideas for starting points and a little pack of collage materials etc. I also decided to make the circle anonymous, to eliminate any feelings of being under pressure or intimidated as unlike the TEA circle all the participants know each other. The books are all numbered and staff swop books by placing them in a box in the staffroom in a given week and know which number to take.

The circle is working well. There have been a few 'hiccups'! Three people have dropped out as they found it too stressful - the opposite of what it was meant to be and I have had to increase the time people have books from a month to half a term. There has also been a little chasing on my behalf as books are 'missing' from the box each half term! However each half term when I have a peak in the box I am overwhelmed by the talent and creativity. Some people have also (correctly) guessed their partners which is interesting. I am planning a 'Sketchbook Showcase' towards the end of the summer term at lunchtime in the staffroom with Tea and Cake! I am planning on starting a new circle in September.

Staff Sketchbook Circle - Yvette Hughes, The Brooksbank School

The joy of teaching Art had begun to escape me in 2014, a chance conversation lead me to NSEAD Online, the Sketchbook Circle and an opportunity to attend Susan Coles’ well-being CPD at the Baltic. From this time I have not looked back.

From January 2015 I began to realise how important my love of Art was and how vital it would be in restoring my work life balance and my general well-being. My sketchbook partnerships with Elaine Humpleby and Helen Homewood throughout this year nourished my soul, revived my creativity and challenged my artistic approach. Every month I took my TEA sketchbooks into school to share with students and staff.

The joy of the circle was infectious and it dawned on me that the benefits I had experienced perhaps could be shared in my wider school community. I floated the idea of starting a staff circle, thinking five or six might join, I did not expect forty two and certainly did not expect our rugby loving Head Teacher to be one of them.

Once the circle had begun in September staff made time to chat on the corridors about their books rather than the usual moans and groans, data or Ofsted. A wide range of staff joined with an array of skills and experiences including:

The Deputy Head used textiles, an Assistant Head worked with photography and poetry, the ICT technician experimented with stained glass. We had a doodling PE teacher, jewellery-making chemistry teacher and a history teacher who made music. One of the most diverse groups has involved our jewellery-making chemist passing a silver clay bird onto an art teacher who responded with weaving, that passed on to our musicial historian who wrote a piece of music in response to the previous two items to complete the cycle our technician responded to the music through some wonderful photographs.

One of the most special events has been a sketchbook day, eight staff attended a workshop/well-being day where we “made”, chatted, shared, ate soup and generally had a revitalising day. Now members of the staff circle come to my student sketchbook club and share ideas.

The year has been fascinating for me, I had planned the circle to run like clockwork but have rapidly learned that this is impossible. Due to the demands of life and teaching some members of the circle have had to reluctantly hang up their books; however I have always been able to find replacements. We still have twenty eight members as I write. I have learned that in a busy school environment my role is as one of a plate spinner and as long as some people are doing something creative then this is an achievement.

Partly a result of my new found confidence and creativity I plucked up the courage to apply for a position of a Head of Art, I was able to talk about the TEA circle and my school circle in my interview. I was lucky enough to get the job so sadly will have to walk away from the circle at my current school. I look forward to an end of year exhibition which will celebrate the adventures of the circle and hope to round it all off with a final workshop.

I have already had several conversations about who will run the circle when I have gone (no mention of the circle folding!) Most satisfyingly I have had members of staff saying they will carry on with their own work in their books, even if they do not carry on in the circle.

This has been a great exploration of creative community, collaboration, conversation and the power of Art to unite and empower staff during difficult times.

Link to Facebook Group :

School Sketchbook Circle- Suzanne Chalke, Hinchley Wood School



I launched a whole school Circle after attending an annual NSEAD conference and joining the TEA sketchbook circle for the first time. This was done with much uncertainty and apprehension as I had no idea whether I would have ten or 200 volunteers; the final figure was a nice manageable 48 ranging from 11 year olds who had just entered the school to staff members about to retire.

I linked artistic styles and preferences but also opposite approaches to create challenge and to get participants out of their comfort zones.  I also wanted to use the Circle as a mentoring programme as much as an art club and therefore spent time considering which people would work best together in terms of personality. For example, I paired up some shy Year 7 students with Year 11 mentors to give the younger pupils a sense of security knowing they could turn to an older student if they needed to.

Students embraced the project however teachers took a little more convincing as they claimed they were concerned about the time involved.  It became apparent that worrying about time involved was not the whole story– lack of artistic confidence also played a big part but by the end of the Year most staff members had thoroughly enjoyed themselves claiming that the Circle had caused them to slow down, become more creative and do something for themselves.

I was particularly surprised with how quickly and how successfully the younger students upped their game. The way they embraced the freedom the Circle offered them and the quality of the work they produced was inspiring.  We would meet every month to swap books. The sense of excitement waiting for everyone to arrive and the suspense of waiting for the reveal was infectious.

I decided that each month would change thematically. For example, some of the themes were: collage; only black and white; words and lyrics and a photographic element. Some of the students liked the guidance the themes gave them whereas others felt out of their comfort zone but enjoyed the challenge. One Year 8 students commented that “It was great try new effects, techniques and materials as I’d only ever felt comfortable drawing before.  I loved using Photoshop and image transfer.”

Unlike the Sketchbook Circles I had been involved in with NSEAD where you rarely get to meet your partner, at Hinchley Wood it was very much a face to face experience.  Those involved would sit and have conversations, be nosy and look at others works. Unfortunately, there was the occasional knock to confidence if one partner was of a higher ability than the other.  There were inevitably comments like “I’m not as good as her!” but over the course of the year those who had begun less confident learned from others and broadened their skills base.

Of course there were teething problems. One of the main issues was the lack of boys which seems to highlight the national concerns of art being a female dominated subject. In addition to this, another problem was that not everyone would remember to turn up for our monthly meeting meaning that some of those involved missed out on the excitement of receiving their books back and any subsequent conversations. A number of students often said that they were disappointed with their final work because of rushing due to homework deadlines or revision.

A private show was the culmination of everyone’s efforts when staff, students and parents were invited to view the hard work produced over the year.  This was ultimately the final full stop to a thoroughly enjoyable and brilliant experience. I am now launching Hinchley Wood Sketchbook Circle 2.0 ready for this September, hopefully linking with another local school and can’t wait to see new faces and all the excellent work. 


Featured Artist: Surface Pattern Designer Tanya Paget 'Albaquirky'

Elinor Brass interviews Surface Pattern Designer Tanya Paget AKA Albaquirky, about her current projects, influences and how Sketchbook Circle has impacted on her practice.

How do you balance your design work alongside your teaching role?

I work part-time in a big FE Sixth Form College in Luton, currently heading up our Visual Arts A Levels.  It is a challenge to juggle my various responsibilities alongside design deadlines; detailed time planning is key.  I’ve yet to meet a teacher who doesn't love a list, I use an app called Trello to make lists under lots of headings (called boards in Trello) and jot notes and ideas down as I have them on the move. Trello works for me, as I can restructure and prioritise if deadlines and timeframes change. I start the day and finish the day with a review of my Trello tasks to keep me on track.  

Albaquirky 'Falling Softly'

Albaquirky 'Falling Softly'

Tanya Paget's studio

Tanya Paget's studio

 If I'm working to a big deadline like a trade show, I will also draw up a large week by week calendar on big sheets of paper and pin it up on the studio wall.  I use post-it notes and colour coding to manage the different elements of working to a big show, the creative work on  collections, but also all the other aspects of the project like finance, social media, printer deadlines, marketing, etc. That very visual and physical representation of time, including movable tasks on post-its really works for me to manage a big project effectively.  

The design work feeds into my teaching and vice versa in lots of ways and there is lots of cross-over in my thinking time.  However, I’m very disciplined about when it comes to sit down and allocate time to either role, studio time and college/education time are kept completely separate. It think it helps that those things happen in different physical spaces; my studio and my desk at college. I have previously managed very big teams and had significant roles of responsibility, so to keep sane you need to develop ways of drawing boundaries, so this experience keeps helping me with balancing today!

Albaquirky 'Festive Berries'

Albaquirky 'Festive Berries'

 What are you working on at the moment?

 Wow, lots! I’ve just finished a set of new colour ways of my ‘Machair’ wallpaper design stocked by Feathr and signed the rights over fully to them, so they can take it forward to some international distribution deals. Feathr showed the design as part of the London Design Festival at Tent London back in September – it was so amazing to see the work on display beside such talent and it even got a little love from some bloggers and featured in the Evening Standard Homes and Property section. I have recently signed a contract with a really cool studio/agency called Collect Scotland. I will be showing with them at Premier Vision, Paris in February ’16. From November to now my work has been about putting together new collections and preparing older designs for the Paris show. I’m exhibiting 60 pieces it has been exciting to see them all together and nerve wracking to parcel them up and send them off! I am also part of a collective called Finch & Foxglove who are exhibiting at Surtex in New York in May ’16. So, I’m currently putting together collections for New York. Some of the focus for buyers at the May show is around designs for Christmas, I’m just finishing a collection with a festive focus. All a bit unseasonal, but at least it isn’t warm and sunny outside yet! I keep an eye on trends, but only design to them if they align with ideas I want to do.  The ‘Naive Exotics’ trend is next on my list to do a bit more work around; the house plants are about to get a whole lot of focus, and I’ve been wanting to work some green Parakeets into a a design for a while.  I used to live in South London and enjoyed the surreal juxtaposition of grey council estates and flocks of green parakeets with attitude, they have embedded themselves in my subconscious so I need to get them out onto paper.

Albaquirky 'Mistletoe'

Albaquirky 'Mistletoe'

A glimpse in to Albaquirky's portfolio

 What have you gained from the experience of being in Sketchbook Circle?

 Being part of the sketchbook circle has been a significant catalyst for me to go on a journey towards a more balanced existence as both an educator and creative.  The idea of collaborative working and the physical sketchbooks themselves have made their way into a number of educational projects with my students.  

 The concept of the sketchbook circle came for me as a way to start making work again.  At the time we set it up I was working full time as a Head of Art. I was only very sporadically making work in the holidays, for the rare design job or at creative workshops (where Elinor and I met).  The ‘trick' I wanted to play on myself was that by signing up and committing to a monthly creative task with two others, I could no longer keep putting that vital creative activity to the back of the to-do-list.  I knew I couldn’t let my partners down. My trick worked, silly isn’t it, that I struggled to do it for myself, but rope some strangers in, give myself an additional complex project to co-coordinate and I’d do it!?  

 I started regularly drawing and making.  I loved it.  I realised it was a big problem for me to have let myself get to a stage where such an important thing for me had got shunted to the bottom of my list.  I wanted more. In 2012 a friend asked me to design a limited edition wallpaper pattern under their brand (Werkhaus) to be sold in a London pop-up shop ‘House of Voltaire’. I loved the challenge of  working in repeat and with rhythm, it ticked all my boxes and interestingly unified a pretty diverse set of experience and training as an artist and designer. Pattern was an area I’d not worked in before. The idea for albaquirky was born, I’d caught the surface pattern design bug and wanted more.  

 I went on to study surface pattern design through a number of online courses, this was a really interesting experience as an educator to study this way.  I’d trained as a Fine Artist and then worked for six years as a designer in motion graphics and print, then moved into teaching, so felt I needed to up-skill around the art of pattern making. At this point I was a Head of Faculty and my college was supportive in my request to step down and move to a part-time post, so I could balance my study with education work. This journey has taken me to the stage of having two major international shows in the diary this year and I’m in discussions about a third in September.  Take care, the sketchbook circle can take you to some exciting destinations!

Albaquirky ' Tinsel'

Albaquirky ' Tinsel'

 What advice would you give to those who are new to the circle?

 Relax and enjoy!  Play! Think of drawing in it’s purest sense, the making of marks.  Go with your instincts.  There is no right or wrong. When we set it up, we focused on little steps at a time, make a mark, send it off, do what you can. Your collaborators get it, they are educators too, some months are easy and some hard.  It is a game of call and response and no one is judging you. I feel quite excited for new comers to the circle! It is such a fantastic community of art educators to be a part of. The Facebook group is an exciting space to share and be involved in that community. White space can be daunting, but once you jump in, there will be no stopping you!





Albaquirky 'Oh My Darling'

Albaquirky 'Oh My Darling'

Sketchbook Circle 15 Exhibition and Workshops at The Gerald Moore Gallery

On the 20th February 75 art teachers travelled from across the country to Gerald Moore Gallery for a day of collaborating, experimenting and networking.  It was a celebration of another year of Sketchbook Circle, kindly part-funded by Arts Council England and with the backing of the Big Draw and the NSEAD. 

The day began with the chance to take part in one of four very diverse workshops led by art teachers in the circle, giving participants chance to spend a morning playing with ideas and materials across the different spaces in the gallery and in the school theatre.  There was the opportunity to reconstruct vintage film posters, to work with stitch, to play with mark-making or a session on Cyanotype photography.  

After lunch we opened an impressive exhibition of work in the gallery of images that produced by teachers involved in the 2015 Sketchbook Circle giving everyone chance to see other sketchbook exchanges and to celebrate the achievements of the project.  It was particularly nice that teachers met the person that they had collaborated with for a whole year.  The afternoon was finished off with a session of collaboration and performance led by Susan Coles, encouraging people to work in new ways and to consider different approaches to making art making.   It was such a brilliant day!

Thanks to everyone who contributed, especially Ollie Briggs, Georgia Naish, Alison Mure, Susan Coles and Elaine Humpleby for their fantastic workshops, thanks to Diane Bruford, Susan Coles and Louise Wisdom for all their help setting up the exhibition and thanks to Charlotte Cranidge and the gallery team for all their help on the day.  

If you attended and you haven’t yet sent us feedback, please can you send it back asap?   We are really keen to see what other workshops and events could be offered.